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Nancy Spero (1926-2009)

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I wanted to write a blog on Nancy Spero, but when studying her works and biography i stumbled upon a more than excellent article on Spero written by  Hans Ulrich Obrist. This can not be bettered so i decided to use his entire text for this blog on `Nancy Spero…enjoy.

“The one thing that artists must possess above all other qualities is immense courage,” the filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch once said to me. Nancy Spero, who died on October 18th in Manhattan at the age of 83, was a woman who possessed immense courage, both in her art and in her life. For more than half a century, this courage propelled a practice of enormous imagination that moved across painting, collage, printmaking, and installation, constructing what Spero once called a “peinture féminine” that could address—and redress—both the struggles of women in patriarchal society and the horrors perennially wrought by American military might. Nevertheless, Spero’s art was ambiguous and never merely illustrative, and her treatment of these subjects came through a complex symbolic language incorporating an extraordinary polyphony of goddess-protagonists drawn from Greek, Egyptian, Indian, and pagan mythologies. She once told me that “goddesses, as is true of the gods, possess many characteristics of the eternal, which range from the tragic to transformation into a state of pleasure or even extreme excitement or happiness.”

Her prolific and tremendously inspired career was also fueled by her enduring dialogue with Leon Golub, whom she met in the late 1940s as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and later married. In Paris, where they lived from 1959 to 1964, Spero produced a series of hauntingly oblique works called the Black Paintings, clearly infused with something of their mid-century Parisian, existentialist milieu. Painted at night and featuring androgynous figures and scrawled text fragments in somber colors over bright underlays, the artist once described them as “lyrical,” but also, “deathlike.” Throughout her career, Spero’s aesthetic was indeed one of the fragment, of the torn piece borrowed and fractured, the artist akin to Gilles Deleuze’s “vol créateur” who creatively steals and redirects meaning. Collage, though only one of the artist’s formal means, remained what we might call the conceptually determinant medium of Spero’s art.

Initially, Spero’s work was not openly confrontational—“not parallel, but at an angle,” she once said, paraphrasing Simone de Beauvoir. It was only with the War Series (1966–70), produced at the time of the war in Vietnam and after the couple had relocated to New York, that the terms for Spero’s subsequent overt politicization of painting were established. Its gendered bombs and helicopters, blood-spurting heads and flying insects, constructed a scatological picture of conflict as orgy. Its grotesque realism (in Mikhail Bakhtin’s sense) was all the more disturbing for what Spero once described as its “weird combination of the celebratory and the horrendous,” of the “festive and the frightening.” Kill Commies/Maypole, a work from the War Series that featured severed heads dangling from the end of maypole ribbons, was to form the basis—forty years later—of Spero’s thirty-five-foot-tall hanging mobile, Maypole/Take No Prisoners, installed in the entrance hall of the Italian Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. The relation of repetition and difference between the two works paralleled that between the conflict in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and America’s recent war in Iraq, casting a “terrible continuum” of death and destruction into relief.

Spero specialized in the dissection of conflict. The series of scroll works entitled Codex Artaud that she created between 1971 and 1972 further used collage to produce startling juxtapositions of text and image, their horizontality and the linearity of their elements recalling hieroglyphics, the shards of text taken from Antonin Artaud’s writings exposing her “anger and disappointment at the art world and at the world as a whole.” By this time, Spero had become heavily involved in activist groups operating in and around the New York art world, joining the Art Workers Coalition in 1968 and Women Artists in Revolution in 1969, and becoming a founding member of the women-only cooperative gallery A.I.R. in SoHo. The empowerment of women artists through these activities found symbolic form in Notes in Time on Women, an encyclopedic work Spero first presented in 1979. Taking the form of a 210-foot-long scroll charting the status of women through historical time, it featured figures of athletic women, both ancient and modern, who hopped, skipped, and jumped among quotations from a myriad of sources, many of which spoke to both the implicit and explicit misogyny in the canon of male European philosophers.

From the 1980s onward, Spero exerted a powerful influence on younger generations of artists while continuing to be highly prolific herself. Many of her later works are defiantly hopeful and celebratory, a tenor reflected in her use of particularly strong colors during this time. For instance, a mural produced in the highly charged locale of Derry, Northern Ireland, honored the political actions of the city’s women with a frieze of Greek goddesses and contemporary athletes alongside images of Derry women, while in a 2001 mural on the walls of the 66th Street station in New York City’s subway we see the dynamic figure of an opera singer in a golden gown, lifting and lowering her arms in song beneath the Lincoln Center, home to the Metropolitan Opera.

Nancy Spero continued to work with this sense of hope, despite having suffered the loss of Leon in 2004 and problems with her own health, and amid the deepening of America’s political crisis and international injustices. Spero’s art was suffused with this very human hope, which she saw as being grounded in the intractability of human struggle. Her work was never crudely utopian—as she told me, “utopia, like heaven, is kind of boring.”

Beyond a body of pioneering and exceptional work spanning more than half a century of tumultuous social change, this sense of hope will be her legacy. It was an everyday hope that she lived and breathed, and a hope for today rather than tomorrow: “I don’t know about the future yet because everything is subsumed in the present.” She liked to quote Susan B. Anthony in saying, “Failure is impossible.”

www.ftn-books.com has several titles available on Nancy Spero

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Bridget Riley (1931) now a permanent part of the National Gallery building.

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I love the walldrawings by contemporary artists. First in a long line of artists, there is Sol LeWitt. I witnessed the execution of several of his drawings in the rooms and staircases of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and they fascinated me all.

Then there is Niele Toroni who makes his wall drawings with a single brush and color

and now there is another artist who i admire who have executed a permanent walldrawing, this time at the National Gallery. Yes,…this is permanent and a part of their collection. The last time i had seen  a large walldrawing by Bridget Riley is when she executed one at the Gemeentemuseum in 2012 when she was presented the Sikkens prijs.

An excellent Leperello catalogue was published on that occasion

This beautiful leperello catalogue is available at www.ftn-books.com

Location: Annenberg Court

Spanning a vast 10 x 20 metres, the work comprises coloured discs painted directly onto the surface of the Gallery’s Annenberg Court.

The title, ‘Messengers’, is inspired by a phrase Constable used when referring to clouds, and might also be an allusion to the numerous angels, bearers of news, that we see in the skies of so many National Gallery pictures. 

Painted directly onto the wall of the Annenberg Court, this abstract work carries influences from our historic collection over into the 21st century. Throughout art history, harmonies of colour have played a large part in pictorial composition.Taking as a point of departure the paintings of George Seurat, in particular Bathers at Asnières, Bridget Riley’s ‘Messengers’ transforms the Annenberg Court into a great white space in which coloured discs float as clouds drift in the lanes of the sky. By leaving after-images on the viewer’s retina that suggest volume and movement the longer it is perceived, the work becomes a tribute to its artistic predecessors and to the process of looking at art itself.

Bridget Riley (born 1931) has a long-standing relationship with the Gallery; she made copies of paintings in the collection including Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?), 1433, as a teenager as part of her portfolio when applying to Goldsmiths College, London, just after the end of the Second World War, and Georges Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières while training as an artist. 

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Michel Seuphor (1901-1999)

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Michel Seuphor…wrote a monumental biography on Piet Mondriaan and is one of the great names in constructivist art by himself. In the twenties he became friends with Joaquin Torres Garcia. For me their works are worlds apart from each other but somehow they became friends and started the artist mouvement CERCLE ET CARRE.

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the Netherland was not too far away for Seuphor …the result he had his exhibitions at galleries and museum in the Netherlands. Specially DEN HAAG was a well now city for him. He spent much time at the Gemeentemuseum to study Mondrian for his biography on this famous dutch abstract painter and ….he had an exhibition of his own at the Gemeentemuseum, soon followed with a gallery exhibition at the Nouvelles Images gallery ( closed now) . Both catalogues and a print by Seuphor are available at www.ftn-books.com

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Marinus Boezem (1934)

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Marinus Boezem (1934) belongs, together with Jan Dibbets and Ger van Elk, among the most important representatives of the Conceptual Art and Arte Povera movement in The Netherlands. In the 1960s, Boezem discovered that he could use elusive elements such as air, weather, wind and light as visual materials and made a name with radical, immaterial works that were far ahead of their time. Boezem was one of the initiators of the ground-breaking exhibition ‘Op Losse Schroeven: Situaties en Cryptostructuren’ (1969) at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and took part in the equally influential exhibition ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ at the Kunsthalle Bern in the same year.

In 1969 he created one of his most famous works of art, ‘Signing the Sky Above The Port of Amsterdam With an Aeroplane, 1969’: exactly as stated in its title, an aircraft’s condensation trails were used to spell out Boezem’s surname in the sky, the ephemeral wording disappearing almost as soon as it was created. In 1971 he made an artwork for television that was broadcast under the auspices of Gerry Shum’s legendary Fernseh Gallery. Furthermore, Boezem created numerous works in public space and land art. The Green Cathedral is a beautiful example: 174 Italian poplar trees are planted to reproduce the floor plan and measurements of the Cathedral at Reims, in a flat polder near Almere, the Netherlands.

In an oeuvre spanning more than sixty years, Marinus Boezem has created a body of work that stands quite independently in contemporary art. His works are part of many important museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Gemeentemuseum Den Haag; Museum Kröller-Muller, Otterloo; Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar; and many more public art collections.

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galerie du Dragon (1955-1995)

 

I recently noticed that i have several publications by galerie du Dragon in my inventory

Founded in 1955 and always at the location of 19, rue du Dragon in Paris this galerie is together with galerie Denise Rene one of the grand old institutions in the Parisian art scene. For over 40 years they were representing modern artist like Matta and Carelman,

For those who can read french….. Here is a part from an article on the galerie du Dragon in which ll the famous names of the artists that have made a contribution to the gallerie’s fame are mentioned:

Grâce au soutien de nombreux artistes, le jeune poète Max Clarac-Sérou reprend le bail de la librairie et en fait une galerie d’art à partir de 1955, véritable foyer de découvertes et de contacts : la Galerie du Dragon. De jeunes poètes, comme Edouard Glissant, Alain Jouffroy ou Michel Butor y retrouvent des écrivains plus âgés, Henri Michaux ou Gherasim Luca. Ils y croisent des artistes, peintres ou plasticiens, comme Giacometti, Matta ou Victor Brauner. De solides amitiés voient le jour, dans la fréquentation du lieu, où Max Clarac-Sérou ou Cécilia Ayala organisent les expositions : sur l’art cubain contemporain, en 1961, ou sur le thème de Seul, et le corps, en 1966, réunissant pour l’occasion des œuvres de Balthus, Bellmer, César, Cremonini, Dali, Giacometti, Magritte et Matta..

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Karel F. Treebus (1938)

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He is an important dutch Typographer, but is not that known outside the Netherlands, but because Treebus has witnessed the transsition from lead printing into the digital age of printing it is nice to see how this process has taken effect in the designs of Treebus. Treebus has made numerous designs in those 32 years he was sdesigning papers, letters and forms for the STAATSDRUKKERIJ /Uitgeverij.

Treebus is one of those people that has influenced 3 genarations of designers, because his designs used by many over a period of 40 years

www.ftn-books.com has an excellent monographic book on Treebus available.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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A special PLAY catalogue by Swip Stolk and Frans Haks ( early dutch design 1968)

Imagine the old dutch game of ELECTRO . You habe to find the right combination between question and answer and than the light will light up when the answer is correct. This was the idea behind the play catalogue Swip Stolk designed together with Frans Haks for the ENVIRONMENT exhibition they organied in 1968 fro Studium Generale Utrecht.

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For me the importance is not the design of the the play catalogeu but the participating artists. Among them…Morellet, Megert, Struycken, Le Parc and Gerstner.

The “creme de la Creme ” all within one exhibition. This exhibition from 1968 is almost forgotten and one of the reasons is the rare catalogue which was published with this exhibition. Now i have one copy available. Text by Frans Haks, design by Swqip Stolk and produced by Jumbo. A classic among the Sixties catalogues in teh Netherlands anmd well worthdt collecting. Available at www.ftn-books.com

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Jean-Gabriel Domergue (1889-1962)

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France has had its share of society painters and i f ever there was one who came after the flood of great names who build a career in making portraits of wealthy women,  it must have been Domergue. He started his career in 1911 after he had finished his art studies at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Onwards he specialized in makeing portraits of Parisian women. Some people even say that this is how the French Pin Up was invented. His technique is something between impressionism and the style of Matisse.

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His portraits are highly recognizable and the artistic appreciation and also the value of his works are starting to grow. This making him an artist for the future. The importance of Domergue is not only his figure studies , but also the works he has done as a fashion designer. The clothes he designed for Paul Poiret are considered as true classics. www.ftn-books.com has some nice vintage 60’s cataloges of the artist available.

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Alfred Kubin (1877-1955)

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Alfred Kubin was a Bohemian printmaker and illustrator who became an important figure of both the Symbolist and Expressionist movements. His inventive black-and-white drawings often featured fantastical or morbid elements, and depicted supernatural creatures and sexual violence. Born on April 10, 1877 in Leitmeritz, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), Kubin had an emotionally unstable childhood, attempting suicide and suffering a nervous breakdown before the age of 20. Upon moving to Munich in 1899, he was introduced to the works of Francisco de Goya and Max Klinger, the latter having a particularly profound impact on Kubin. He began producing nightmarish ink-and-wash drawings, and briefly became affiliated with the Russian artist émigré group, the Der Blaue Reiter, which included Wassily Kandinsky and Marianne Werefkin. Kubin was perhaps best known for illustrating the German editions of books by Edgar Allan Poe and Fyodor Dostoevsky. During rise of Nazism in Germany, his work was considered degenerate; he retreated into solitude and lived in a castle in Zwickledt, Upper Austria. He was awarded the City of Vienna Prize for Visual Arts in 1950, and died at his home on August 20, 1959.

www.ftn-books.com has Kubin titles available

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Vitra…das Original

 

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There is a very close realtionship between the heirs of Charles Eames an the heirs of VITRA company. This relation has developed and resulted in one of the most well known and respected furniture companies in Europe. VITRA stands for truly original designs, classic furniture and the best quality money can buy. This philosophy comes back in every printed outing the VITRA company does. Their publications are truely innovative and designed by he best graphic designers in the business. I have seen many books and commercial publications, but the one below is one of the best i have ever seen. Its size, print quality and design are all outstanding. It is a leporello kind of fold out but stapled within there are 3 separate books. making this 4 publications in one package. Photography, paper design and layout…..all AAA.  Short stories on Eames, Jongerius and Morrison included, what else do you want in a small publication. This is highly collectable and now available at www.ftn-books.com

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